Music of India – a brief outline – Part Fourteen

30 May

Continued from Part Thirteen –Forms of Karnataka  Samgita  

Part Fourteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas


1.1. As said before, the evolution of Music of India in all its forms, including the sacred music, art music, dance music, opera, instrumental music and other recognized forms (Gita prabandha, Vadya prabandha, Nritya prabandha and Lakshana prabandha) is a long process spread over many centuries. It took a long time for music to come to its present-day form. What we have today is the result of a long unbroken tradition and the fruit of accumulated heritage of centuries, stretching from the notes (Svara) of Sama-gana to the Mela-kartas of Govindacarya.

1.2. What is remarkable about the Music of India is its systematic way of developing musical thinking that aimed to organize and arrive at a golden mean between melody (Raga) ,the structure of the compositions (Sahitya) and the rhythm (Taala) . This has lent our music an inner-strength and an identity of its own.

1.3. There followed a very long period stretching over a thousand years – from Natyashatra to Chaturdandi prashika – which produced most wonderful texts providing substance , structure and a sense of identity to what we now call as Classical Music. These texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), classified as Lakshana-granthas, brought together the various strands of the past Music traditions; established a sound theoretical basis for the structural framework Music, its related issues and practice.  Each genre of these texts also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

1.4. The authors of ancient Indian musical texts seemed to be concerned with precise ways to describe Music as it should be; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

The Samgita shastra was at once the theory that laid down concepts and rules to be brought into practice; and it was also the practice that remodeled the theory. It was a two-way mode of progression. It was said:  Shastram iti shaasanopaayam. The Shastra was not merely a theory but it was also a tool (upaya) for perfecting the Vidya. The theory (lakshana) had to have a purpose or a target (lakshya). The test of a theory was in its application, Viniyoga.

1.5. The Lakshan-granthas, the text lying down theoretical aspects of Music, authored by various  musician-scholars,  are the fruits  of their systematic study of the art-forms as they existed in the past and as it was practiced during their times. The texts also projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future. Thus, the Lakshana-granthas over the centuries have defined, protected and guided the Music of India.

Though the forms and formats of Music over the centuries changed to suit their adopted environments, the essential principles behind the Music have remained true and lasting. Like in other Indian traditions, continuity and change go hand in hand in Music. That happy union, I reckon, is mainly due to the brilliant series of Lakshana-granthas.

Before we go on to the  notable among the texts of ancient and medieval India that deal with Music, briefly lets briefly look at Naradiya Shiksha  perhaps the oldest of Music-texts.

  1. Naradiya Shiksha

Shiksha is a branch of Veda lore (vedanga); and, it deals with elements of chanting and phonetics. According to Taittereya Upanishad (1. 2), the elements of chanting includes six factors: Varna (syllable); Svara (accent or note); Maatra (duration); Balam (articulation or stress); Sama (even tone) and Santana (continuity). The first four deal with correct pronunciation of individual syllables; and the last two with the recitation of the entire line or the verse.

Briefly, Varna is the correct pronunciation of every isolated syllable, combination of consonants and ovals and compound letters. Svara is how a syllable has to be pronounced in one of the three accents (udatta, anudatta and svarita). Maatra is the time duration for pronouncing a syllable. There are of four types: hrasva– a short one – duration for short ovals; dhirga –  two unit-duration for long vowels; plutam- longer than two–unit duration; and, the fourth is ardha- maatra, half unit, meant for consonants not accompanied by vowels.

Some of the well-known Shiksha texts are: Paniniya, Yagnyvalkya, Vashisthi, Katyayani, Manduki and Naradiya.  The last one is  associated with Sama Veda.

Naradiya Shiksha is a text that deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language. Some believe it might pre-date Bharatha’s Natyashastra. Narada suggests an ardent student of music must lead a disciplined and well regulated life; meditate at proper times. He should learn to pronounce the Mantras clearly and crisply. He recommends consumption of Tri-phala-churna ( a powder) mixed with salt for digestion , memory and lucid pronunciation. He also recommends breathing in of its smoke and also have honey (Madhu). He says, for securing a clear and sweet voice and attractive teeth, one should use the slick of a mango or wood-apple. Either for learning Vedas or Music, it is essential to have clear voice, self control, attention, sound approach.  A student of Music should learn to recognize the divinity in the Svaras.

The Narada Shiksha while explaining the Sama music states that there were three Gramas (Shadja, Madhyama and Gandharva). It also mentions that each Grama has seven Murchanas (a total of 21 Murchanas). (But, it does not define Grama or Murchana). It was said; the set of Murchanas related to Gandharva Grama were meant to please Devas; and the other two to please Pitris and Rishis. In addition, Naradiya Shiksha mentions forty-nine Taanas.

According to some texts (Samavidhana Brahmana and Arseya Brahmana)Sama-Gana employed seven Svaras (notes): 1. Prathama; 2. Dvitiya; 3. Tritiya; 4. Chaturtha; 5. Panchama or Mandra (low); 6. Shasta or Krusts (high); and, Antya or Atiswara (very high).

Naradiya Shiksha relates the Sama Svaras to the notes on the flute (Venu-Svara) as: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Dha, Ni, and Pa.

       Sama Svara                      Venu Svara
01 Prathama Madhyama Ma
02 Dwithiya Gandhara Ga
03 Trithiya Rishabha Ri
04 Chathurtha Shadja Sa
05 Panchama Nishadha Ni
06 Shasta Daiwatha Dha
07 Sapthama Panchama Pa

Naradiya Shiksha (1.5.3; 1.5.4) explains that each Sama-Svara was derived from the sounds made by a bird or an animal in its appropriate season. For instance, bulls roar was Rishabha; kraunchaka’s (heron) cry was Madhyama; elephant’s trumpet was Nishadha; and koel’s (cuckoo) melodious whistle was Panchama and so on. Please see the table below.

Name in Sama Music Symbol Sama Veda Svara Bird/animal



Madhyama Ma svarita heron
Gandhara Ga udatta goat
Rishabha Ri anudatta bull
Shadja Sa svarita peacock
Nishadha Ni udatta elephant
Daiwatha Dha anudatta horse
Panchama Pa svarita koel

As can be seen, the Sama notes were of Nidhana prakriti (diminishing nature) or Vakragati, following Avaroha karma, a descending order (uttarottaram nicha bhavanthi).

The order of the Svaras in Sama-music was: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Ni, Dha, and Pa. The order of the Svaras was revised in the Naradiya Shiksha to: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni ; as we are familiar with it today.

[Another Shiksha text, the Yajnavalkya Shiksha  also gives the names of the seven Svaras as SA-RI-GA-MA-PA-DA-NI; and says that the seven Svaras belonged to Aranya-gana.]

The Saman initially gave rise to a body of devotional songs called Marga or Gandharva sung in Jati (melody). No matter who sang and in which region it was sung, the Sama and the Marga music had to follow the same traditional approved format.

From Marga, the devotional music (Vaidika) , was born the Art music (laukika) Desi,  the Music of Ragas. Desi, the one derived from regions, sprang from the common people; and, it varied from region to region. Desi was inspired from life, spontaneous and fluid.

Naradiya Shiksha redefined the concepts and terms of the Sama Gana. It recast the descending order of the Sama scales as it did not offer much scope for flexibility in music, into the natural ascending order as we know today.

Because of that re-orientation of the Sama scales a well structured system of music could be erected during the later ages.

[Ref: Dr. Lalmani Mishra ; and  Vaidika sahithya Charithre by Dr, NS Anantharanga Char]


  1. Dattilam

Dattilam, believed to be the work of Dattila or Dantila or Dattilacharya, is one of the earliest works after Natyashastra. (It is otherwise an untitled treatise said to be by Dattila) .And, as it usually happens in the Indian texts, not much is known about the author of Dattilam or his period. It is surmised that Dattila was contemporary or a follower of Bharatha since Dattilam is closely connected with Natyashastra. The ancient authorities referred to in the Dattilam are Khohala, Narada and Visakhila. Dattila is counted as one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharat and Matanga. And, the later authors of the medieval times, in turn, quote Dattilam. It is therefore surmised the Dattilam might belong to the first or second century of Common Era.

Dattilam is a fairly short text of about 244 Karikas or stanzas, spread over 12 Chapters. Judging from the brevity of its structure and its style, the scholars opine that the edition of the text that has come down to us might be an abridgement of a more extended work. The author, in fact, remarks that he will desist from discussing Veena-playing (Veena –vadana) for fear of making the treatise too lengthy. Similarly, Dattilam does not deal with dramaturgy (Nrtta, Natya), perhaps because that was dealt in the original extended work.

Dattilam takes a significant position in the history of Indian Music. It is the bridge between the Sama Gana the ritual music of Yajna , and the pious Gandharva songs, which later transformed into the Desi Sangita that has come down to us through series of transformations.

The Gandharva totally remodeled the Music structure. In the Gandharva, the original descending Sama Veda scales were recast into new ascending and descending seven Svara (note) structures. These seven notes of the Gandharva (Svara-saptaka) are in use even today.

And , therefore, as Emmie te Nijenhuis remarks : The Dattilam is a very suitable starting point for study of the Ancient Indian Music , as it is a concise compendium of almost all the Musical terms.

A major part of 244 verses of Dattilam is about Gandharva. Dattilam calls Gandharva as Avadhana, conscious (samyag baddha) melodic employment of Svara, Taala and Pada. In Verse three of the Dattilam , Gandharva is explained as a collection of notes (Svara) which is based in words (Pada- thatha–Svara sanghtah ) ; which is  measured by  time-units (Taala) ; and, which is  performed with diligence (prayukthas savadhenena) is known by the name of Gandharva , (Gandharvam abhijayate  )

Pada – thatha- Svara sanghtah Talena sumitas thatha  I Prayukthas savadhenena Gandharvam  abhijayate  II

In verses 5 and 6 of Dattilam , the author mentions that he would cover topics such as : Sruti (micro-intervals ), Svara (notes), Grama (two-note system) , Murchana (scales) consisting series of notes (Taana) , Sthana (registers) , Vritti (styles) ,  pure instrumental music (Shushka) , singing along with playing (Giti), Sadharana (two ways of overlapping of notes), Varna (movement of Svaras) and Alamkara (ornamentation ) etc.

Dattilam also explains those music-terms of its period. For instance;  Dattilam (9) explains Sruti as the difference in sounds (dvani visesha) produced by striking on the strings on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu veenayam) and that produced by striking on the  lower end (adharottarah) of the Veena . And, Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena.

Dattilam says Svaras are seven , starting with Shadja (Dattilam .11) ; and they are  of four types:  Vadi (sonant); Samvadi (consonant); Anuvadi (assonant) and Vivadi (dissonant). Vadin is the note that produces the melody. As Vadin is repeated often, the other notes are used in relation to it . For instance; the two Svara-s with an interval of eight or twelve Sruti-s between them  are called Samvadi of each other. Ni and Ga are Vivadi (discordant) to other Svaras. The Svara following a Vadi Svara is called Anuvadi.

Dattila explains these terms:”Vadin is the king; Samvadin is the minister who follows him; Vivadin is like the enemy who disrupts, and should be sparingly employed; and, Anuvadi denotes the retinue of follower.”

(Abhinavagupta adds a word of caution; and remarks that Dattila’s analogy just as any other analogy is rather brittle; and, should not be pressed very hard.)

Murchana is described as the ordered or the sequential arrangement of the seven Svaras. The Svaras of the Murchanas of the Shadja Grama are seven (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni). If the commencing Svara (initial note – Graha) is changed, but the intervals between the Svara (Sruti) is kept unchanged, it then is called Graha–Bedha. It was through this method, it is said, Murchanas were derived from Gramas.

Dattilam (22-24) explains that the Murchanas of Shadja Grama are, generally, seven (Uttaramandra; Rajani; Uttara-ayata; Shuddha-Shadja; Matsarikruta; Ashvakranta; and, Abhirudgata). The Murchanas of the Madhyama Grama were also seven (Sauviri; Harinasva; Kalopanata; Shuddha-madhyama; Margi; Pauravi; and, Hrsyaka). The Murchanas of the two Gramas add up to fourteen.

Natyashastra mentions eighteen Jaati-s  (melodic structure). Of these, seven are called Shuddha Jaati-s. These are the Jaati-s which have the Svaras (notes) after which they are named, such as: Graha, Amsa and Nyasa. To this, Dattila adds Apa-nyasa. The Nyasa of Shuddha Jaati is Mandra. And, the remaining ones, originating from a mixture of these (suddha jatis) are modified (vikrita).

The Shuddha–Jaati had all the seven Svaras. When any one or more of these was  dropped, excepting the Nyasa (final note), the Shuddha Jaati would become Vikrta (modified). By the combination of the two or more Jaatis the eleven  Samsargaja–Vikrta would be formed.

Dattilam (55) lists the ten characteristic of Jaati as:   Initial note (graham), dominant (amsa), high (tara) and low (mandra) registers, hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva) in due order, rareness (alpatva0, prevalence (bahutva), final note (nyasa) and secondary final note (apanyasa).

Then Dattilam goes on to explain:

This is the tenfold characterization of jati according to class (i.e. according to each jati). The accurate description of these ten (characteristics) will be set forth briefly.

There is the initial note (Graha), which is the starting note (adisvara) of a song. The high register (Tara) is considered to consist of five notes, rising (upwards) from the dominant.

it is recommended that in nandayanti jati the limit is not further then the dominant, with the final note as its limit, or even beyond (i.e. lower than) this one, that is the low register (mandra).

hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva), respectively, are songs which are based on six or five notes. Rareness (alpatva) and prevalence (bahutva) depend on the rare or frequent use of certain notes.

Nyasa if the final note of a song. In the same way, the note which occirs in the middle, that is to say, in a section (vidari), as a final note, is the secondary final note (apanyasa). I will mention them according to the jatis

Verses 62-95 are about descriptions of 18 jatis.

Similarly, Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila abridged the list to thirteen. Matanga who followed Natyashastra reckoned thirty-three Alamkaras.  However, in later times the list grew up to eighty-eight types of Alamkaras.

 Dattila’s list of thirteen Alamkaras , which is  regarded as the basic was: 1. Prasanna-adi, begins with low note; 2. Prasanna-anta, ends with low note; 3. Prasanna-madhya, low note in the middle; 4. Prasanna-adyanta, begins and ends with low note; 5. Bindu, higher note touched like lightning; 6. Nivrtta-pravrtta, lower note touched quickly; 7. Prenkholita, even swing between two notes;  8. Tara-mandra-prasanna, gradual rise followed by sudden drop; 9. Mandra-tara-prasanna, sudden rise followed by gradual descent; 10. Sama, even ascent and/or descent; 11. Kampita, quiver in low register; 12. Harita, quiver in middle register; and, 13. Recita, quiver in high register.

Even the vocal styles were defined based on the relation between singing and playing the song on Veena. When one plays on the Veena ( following the vocal style) but without singing it is then known as Shuska or A-gita .And, when one plays on the Veena and sings the song as he plays m it is known as Giti.  Abhinavagupta in his commentary explains it further, saying: every type of Giti can be played on Veena. And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva, Anugata and Ogha. When the Gana (singing)  is prominent and the Veena follows Gana completely , it is Tatva; when the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship , it becomes Anugata; and , when the playing techniques becomes A-nibaddha and the Karanas become more prominent  and the Gana becomes secondary then the Giti becomes Ogha . Thus in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.

Similarly, Murchana and Taana variations to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer were explained with reference to Veena. Dattilam (36) mentions about the techniques of improving Taana-s on the Veena (Taana-kriya). Dattila says: The Taana-kriya is twofold (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam): Pravesika and Nigraha. Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note. And, Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat)

 (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam praveshena nigrahat tatha I tatra pravesho dhvanyaikyam asamsparka tu nigrahat II)

Thus, along with Natyashastra, Dattilam is a fundamental Lakshana-grantha, a text that defined and explained the theory and practice of Indian Music. It put in a clear language the concepts and terms governing the Music of its time. Though some of its terms such as Jaati, Murchana, Grama etc are no longer in use, their essential principles have percolated to the present-day through a series of transformations.

[Ref: Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music by Emmie te Nijenhuis ; and , Natalie Savelyeva    ]



 3. Brihaddeshi

 Brihaddeshi is another landmark text that spans the period from Natyashastra/Dattilam to Sangita-ratnakara. It carries forward the tradition of Natyashastra and Dattilam; and at the same time it establishes the Desi Sangita on a firm pedestal. Brihaddeshi bridges the Marga and the Desi class of Music; and also provides the basis for the emergence of the Mela system of classifying the Ragas.   One could say, Brihaddeshi gave a new birth to Indian Music; and, revitalized its creative genius by bringing the concept of Raga into the very heart of the Music traditions and their sensibilities.

Brihaddeshi also serves as a reference to many earlier authors whose works are now lost, such as: Kashyapa, Kohala, Durgasakti, Maheshwara, Yastika, Vallabha, Vishvavasu   and Shardula.

The text is attributed to Matanga or Matanga Muni or Matanga-Bharatha (as he is regarded one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharatha and Matanga) takes a very important position between Bharatha (Ca.2nd century BCE) and Sarangadeva (Ca.13th century). It is surmised that he perhaps lived during sixth or the seventh century.

The edition of Brihaddeshi, as it has come down to us, is an incomplete text. Only about five hundred of its verses are available. Those available verses and chapters deal only with Music; and conclude with the remark that the next Chapter will deal with Musical instruments (Vadya).  Sadly, that and subsequent Chapters, if any, are not available. However, some commentators of the later periods cite from Brihaddeshi the references pertaining to instruments, taala and dance.

In the available chapters, the first portion starts with the definition of Desi.  The term Desi, here, refers to all forms created of songs; and, it comprehends the three arts of Gita (song), Vadya(instruments) and Nŗtta (dance). One of Matanga’s major contributions is his scholarly focus on the regional element in music. Brhaddeshi (Brihat + Desi) is thus a masterly compilation of the music traditions of the various regions (Desha).

Next, the concept of Nada is described as the most subtle vibration which is the basis for speech, music, dance and all other forms of activities. Then, the text goes on to discuss two Grama-s: Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama. From these, Grama-s the music elements Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga are derived.

Matanga deals with Grama, Murchana and Jaati, rather briefly. According to Matanga, twenty-one Murchana-s evolved from the three main Grama-s: Shadja, Madhyma and Gandharva. Murchana were of two kinds: one, having seven Svaras and the other having twelve Svaras (sa-Murcchana dvi-vidha; sapta-svara-Murchanat dvadasha-svara-Murchana cheti).

The Murchana with Seven Svaras  was divided into four parts: Purna, Shadava, Audava, and Sadharana, The Purna contained  seven Svaras (hexatone ) ; Shadava , six Svaras (heptatone ) ; Audava , five  Svaras (pentatonic ) ; and the Sadharana , two displaced (vikrita} Svaras :  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.

And, the Murchana with Twelve Svaras manifest in three registers (Sthana): low, medium and high (Mandra, Madhya and Tara).

The text then discusses Sruti (silent intervals between Svaras), Svara intervals in the two Grama-s and other terms and concepts such as, Tana, Varna, Alamkara, Jaati, Gita and Raga.  Various other aspects including the popular melodies of his time are given in the other chapters.  As the name suggests, it is a huge work and is highly informative.

Following the steps of Bharatha, Matanga also recognized Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama as two basic Grama-s (groups or clusters). From these Grama-s he derived Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga. He says that the Aroha (ascending) and the Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras form the Murcchana of a Raga. Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes that, with further embellishments (Alamkaras) of thirty-three varieties, constitutes the core of a Raga. TheseAlamkaras are indeed the musical excellences that adorn the songs.

After allotting a chapter to the Jaati-s, Matanga devotes a special chapter to the Ragas.  Here, he deals with Grama-raga; and the Desi-ragas: Bhasa, Vibhasa and Antarabhasa. These Desi-ragas are again classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga.

Indeed, it is in this chapter of the Brhaddeshi we first come across the definition of Raga as given by Matanga, and as understood by all later literature on Classical Music. In the history of the Ragas, Brhaddeshi is, therefore, a landmark text.

The term Raga seemed to have been in use even prior to 7th century. But, it was not used in Music or in Music-theories in the way we know it and use it now.  It is, therefore, difficult to say Raga as understood it is today, had fully evolved and was recognized as such at the time of Natyashastra.

Which is to say; the notion of melodies that are created by artistic and ingenious arrangement of ascending and descending Svaras had been there for a very long time. It was a rather amorphous concept; its structure had not been determined; and, was waiting to be defined in a clear language. This , precisely, what Matanga did.

The nature of the Raga system (Raga-margasya- lit. path) has not been explained by Bharatha and others (Bharathadi); and, it is going to be explained (Nirupayate) by us, according to theory (lakshana) and also practice (lakshya)– (279).

Raga-margasya vad rupam yannoktam Bharathadibhih I Nirupayate tasmad abhir lakshya –lakshana –samyuktam II

Then he goes on to explain: It is that particular quality or distinction of melodic-sound (dhwani-bhedaya) which is created by the combination or the arrangement of Svaras and Varnas (Svara-varna visheshena); and that which delights (Ranjyate) is recognized by the wise as Raga.

Svara-varna visheshena dhwani-bhedaya va punah Ranjyate yena yan kashichit sa ragah samsthatham   II 280

Or (Athava), it is that particular sound which is adorned by Svara and Varna; and that which delights the minds of the people is called Raga by the wise.

Athava – Yo asya dhwani vishesathu svara varna vibhushitaham Ranjako jana-chittanam sah ragah kathitho vidhuv II 281

 [Following Matanga, Sarangadeva in his Sangeeta-ratnakara described Raga as: ranjayati itihi rāga- that which delights the mind is a Raga.]

After defining Raga, in two way:  as that particular  arrangement or ornamentation   of Svara and movement of Varna (Svara-Varna vishesha ; vibhushitam ); and as the distinction of melodic sounds (Dhwani-bhedana)  which delight the minds of people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) , Matanga takes up  the etymological  explanation  of the term Raga and its origin (Utpatthi).

Matanga says: this is how the word is derived (Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate). He explains that the word Asvakarna when it is derived from its root might literally mean the ears of a horse. But, in practice (rudi), Asvakarna is generally understood as the tree whose leaves resemble in shape the ears of a horse. Similarly, the word Pankaja literally means one that is born (ja) out of mud (panka). But, Pankaja in convention and common usage refers only to the lotus-flower.

In a like manner, he says, the word Raga has etymological as well as special conventional meaning like the word Pankaja. He explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate Ranjana-jjayate  ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II 283 Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284

Along with defining Raga and explaining its concept, Matanga takes up the question of its identity. He says that the identity of Raga is conceived in two ways (dvivida matham):  through its general (Samanya) classification and through its special characteristics (visheshacha lakshana). He mentions the general categories as four (Chatur vidha tu samanya); and, that the Raga’s special identity lies in Amsa and other features (vishesha cha Amshakadhikam).

Samanya cha visheshacha lakshana dvivida matham Chatur vidha tu samanya vishesha cha Amshakadhikam II 282

As regards the four broad categories (Chatur vidha tu samanya) that Matanga mentioned, he, perhaps, was referring to Desi ragas that are classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga. These ragas are the basis for all musical forms presented in the later Samgita traditions and forms. [But, during the later times the connotation and interpretation of these terms underwent thorough revision. The Ragas came to be classified into Janaka and Janya. And, Janya ragas were further classified into : Sampurna — Varja; Krama- Vakra; Upanga — Bhashanga: Nishadantya, Dhaiva- tantya and Panchamantya. ]

Amsa was said, during the time of Matanga, to be the prominent or predominant Svara through which the Raga manifested (raga-janakatvad vyapakatvaccha Amsasya pradhanyam).  During his time, the term Amsa and Vadi were used alternatively. Kallinatha in his commentary has said that both Amsa and Vadi used to convey the idea of creating the pleasing sensations of the Ragas (Sa vadi tyogyatavashdt amsha syat rakti-vyanjakatvat).

Along with Amsa, nine other characteristics of Jaati (melodies) were listed in Natyashastra (28.74) as also in Dattilam (55) as Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa.

In the explanations offered by Matanga, he mentions Svara, Varna and Alamkara etc.

According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered

And, Varna refers to special note sequences that indicate different kinds of movement. The function of Varna in a Raga is to manifest a song; and, it is, therefore, known as gana-kriya. The Varna-s are said to be of four kinds, depending on the movement of Svara. They indicate the general direction of the melodic line.   When a note remains more or less at the same level it is called Sthayi-varna (stable); when the notes are ascending or descending these are known as Arohi and Avarohi. And, a mixture of the three is sanchari-varna, wandering, back-and-forth.

Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila later abridged the list to thirteen. Matanga who followed Natyashastra reckoned thirty-three Alamkaras.  However, in later times the list grew up to eighty-eight types of Alamkaras.

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, speaks about  Gamakas. For in instance; while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Raga-giti should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and the Vibhasha–giti should be sung blending in the Gamakas that are pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithairasthu) and are also delicate , according to the will of the singer (yadrucchaya samyojya)   to the delight of the people (lokan-ranjathe)- (308).

One can appreciate the contribution of Matanga when you realize that with the advent of Raga changed the whole phase of Indian Music.  With its coming, , the ancient music-terms and concepts such as Jaati, Grama , Murchana etc no longer are relevant in the Music that is practiced since say, fourteenth century. Since then Raga has taken the centre stage; and, it is the most important concept in music composition, music performances and even in music-listening.

The proliferation of Ragas led, in the South, to systematic ways of classifying or grouping them based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras). Classification of Ragas plays a major role in Indian Music theories. Matanga’s work became the source-text for the musicologists of the later periods for developing Mela-karta (parent scale) system of classifying Music;

 [Ref: Rāga-s in Bhaddēśī: English translation of the verses and the prose passages describing the Rāga-s, in the Bhaddēśī of Mataga by Dr. Hema Ramanathan; Brhaddasehi of Matanga by Dr. N. Ramanathan; A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music ]


Continued in

Part Fifteen


Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 responses to “Music of India – a brief outline – Part Fourteen

  1. prachidublay

    August 10, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Thanks so much for providing a comprehensive information about important Sanskrit Texts. My inquiry would be, Like Bharata is given the authorship for Natyashatra, and Matanga for Brihad Desheey, who has authored Naradeey Shiksha? The author Narada is again a disputed identity. I shall be grateful if you could kindly reply.

    • sreenivasaraos

      August 11, 2016 at 2:06 am

      Dear Prachi, I am delighted you read this article. Thank you for the fair question you raised.

      I saw your very impressive profile – of many splendor-ed interests and activities. I was particularly taken up with your deep involvement and effort in performing and promoting Adivasi Music of several regions and sub-regions. It is such a huge task that organizations and Institutes would hesitate to take-up. You are attempting it almost single-handedly. That is truly remarkable. You deserve great praise; and more particularly, you need greater support. May God bless you Maa.

      It is a privilege to have known you and about your work.


      Before we go to the Naradiya Shiksha and its author/s, let’s talk of Narada.

      As you rightly remarked, the question of Narada is one of ‘disputed identity’.

      There have, in fact, been many Narada-ss. Narada is a hoary name that occurs very often in the ancient texts. Down the several centuries, there have been many scholars who went by the name of Narada. It is a fairly long list. Please be patient.

      : – To start with, the Sarva-Anukramika (a sort of Index of Vedic personalities) said to have been compiled by Katyayana describes Narada as a Rishi who was the descendent of sage Kanva and as the author of several Riks in Rig-Veda. It is said; the mantra sukhaya nividata was revealed to Narada and to another Rishi Parvata. He was the founder of a long line of distinguished scholars, all of whom adopted the name Narada.

      :-There is a mention of a Narada Atharva Veda too (5.19.9:12.4.16).

      The Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2) mentions that Narada was well versed in Vako-vakya (Logic or Nyaya?) .

      The Chandogya Upanishad, under Bhumavidya, refers to Narada as a disciple of the sublime quartet of Sanath kumaras.

      : – Narada and Sama Veda have a close relationship. Naradiya Shiksha, a treatise on Music, which deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language, is ascribed to a Narada.It is a work of seminal importance in Indian Music; it redefined the concepts and terms of the Sama Gana; and. recast the descending order of the Sama scales as it did not offer much scope for flexibility and elaboration in music; and , restructured the music notes (Svara) into the natural ascending order as we know today. We all owe a debt of deep gratitude to this Narada.

      :- In the Sabha-parva of Mahabharata, a sage named Narada appears as an expert in Nyaya Shastra. He was said to be skilful in distinguishing unity and plurality; conjunction and co-existence; genus and species etc. He had mastered the art and science of deciding questions through evidence (Pramana)

      :- Nārada-smṛti (100 BC – 400 CE), a text of the Nyaya-shastra, ascribed to a Narada, is hailed as the “juridical text par excellence”.

      It is the only Dharma-śāstra text which deals solely with juridical matters. This Narada is also credited with another text: Narada Pancha ratra.

      :- Another well-known text on Music, Sangita Makaranda (7th -9th century) is ascribed to Narada. It is an interesting work which brings in philosophical, Tantric and religious interpretations into Desi Music. It also introduces the concept of associating sets of Music notes (Grama) with seasons (Rtu) in the year ; as also with the hour of the day. For instance; Sangita Makaranda associates Hemanta (winter) with Shadja Grama; Grishma (summer) with Madhyama Grama; and, Varsha (rains) with Gandharva Grama. As regards the time of the day for rendering the Gramas, Narada allots forenoon to Shadja; midday to Madhyama; and afternoon to Gandharva Grama.

      :- In several Puranas, Narada is a very popular and an endearing character , though a bit too clever and ever busy in igniting disputes. He is described as the Manasa-putra (born out of the will) of Brahma. He is well versed in traditional learning and in Music (Samgita shastra). He is depicted invariably carrying a Veena and singing the praise of Lord Hari, Vishnu. He is revered as the propagator of Bhakthi-marga , the path of devotion.

      :- Narada in the Puranas is the guide and mentor of young devotees like Dhruva and Prahlada.

      :- Srimad Bhagavatha narrates the life of Narada in detail (1.5, 23-31; 1.6.5-36).

      :- The Matsya Purana (dated around second century AD) reckons Narada as one among the eighteen ancient Master architects (vastu-shatropadeshkaha) : Brighu, Atri, Vashista, Vishwakarma, Brahma, Maya, Narada, Nagnajit, Visalaksa, Purandara, Kumara, Nanditha, Shaunaka, Garga, Vasudeva, Aniruddha, Shuka and Brihaspathi.

      :- There is also a Narada Purana said to have been recited by Narada himself. It deals with a vast range of subjects such as, origin of the universe, , training of the mantras, worship rituals and tales related to various incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

      :- It was Sage Narada who urged Valmiki to script the epic Ramayana. He also inspired the Rishi Vyasa to write Mahabharata.

      :- In Ramayana , there is a mention of another Narada . It is said; the Apsaras danced to the songs of Gandharvas, such as Narada the king of Gandharvas (Gandharva-rajanah), Tumbura, Gopa, Gargya, Sudhama, Parvata, and Suryamandala (R.VI .92.10). Tumbura sang in divine Taana (divya-taaneshu).

      : And, again, in Mahabharata, the sage Narada imparts instructions, delivers discourses to Yuddhishtra, the eldest of the five Pandavas

      It is obvious that all these Narada-s do not refer to a single individual. There might have been many more persons , over the centuries, all sharing the name of Narada,


      As regards the author of Naradiya Shiksha, again , not much is known about him. Some believe that Naradiya Shiksha might pre-date Bharata’s Natyashastra (second century BCE) . The exat period is rather uncertain.

      Though the text of Naradiya Shiksha that has come down to us is ancient, the scholars believe that certain portions were added after the age of Panini (the Great Grammarian) and some after Bharata’s Natyashastra. Nevertheless, Naradiya Shiksha id regarded as an ancient source. Abhinavagupta, Bhatta Shobhakara and other commentators have accepted Naradiya Shiksha as it is.

      Naradiya Shiksha in any case is attributed to someone named Narada – a descendent of the ancient Rishi or an admirer of Narada.

      Please read a scholarly work – The Doctrine of Shruti in Indian Music – by Dr. Vinod Vidwans, which is based mostly on Naradiya Shiksha

      I am sorry; I have not been of much help.


      Please see the last two segments of this series. It talks about the Dhrupad.

      Warm Regards

      • prachidublay

        September 12, 2016 at 12:27 pm

        Thanks so much Dr. Rao for this comprehensive reply… I am indebted.. Dr. Vindo Vidwans happened to be my senior faculty at Flame University where I taught for a while, he chairs the performing arts school there. I shall reconnect to him on the account of Naradiya Shiksha. Looking forward to have many more meaningful conversations with you.. Warmly, Prachi

      • prachidublay

        December 26, 2016 at 6:11 am

        Dear Dr. Rao, Seasons Greetings and Warm Wishes for the New Year .. I once again seek your scholarly inputs.. Regarding my work in Tribal Music, I am trying to trace the connection between Human Consciousness and Pentatonic Scale.. As we are aware, many of the indigenous communities all over the world dwell in Pentatonic Scales.. I shall be deeply grateful if you could kindly give me concrete clues.. Thanking you in advance, Warmly, Prachi~!!

    • sreenivasaraos

      September 12, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Dear Prachi

      I am delighted you found my response useful.

      Your academic background and achievements are truly impressive.

      God bless you Maa.

      While on the subject of Narada, let me mention:

      I forgot to add to the long list of Narada-s , the author of Bhakthi Sutras (Ca.11th century) . It is likely that an ardent devotee or an admirer of the venerable sage might have published his work under the name of Narada, as an act of devotion and submission.

      Narada Bhakthi Sutra is a brief work of 84 Sutras. Its language is simple, beautiful and direct .It claims to be a collection of the sayings of the ancient sage Narada. The main subject of the text is the practice of pure devotion. Narada Bhakthi Sutra predates Shandilya’s Bhakthi Sutras, another treatise on the subject of Bhakthi which appeared around the same time. While talking of Bhakthi Sutras it is customary to mention both the texts and compare their treatment of the subject

      Narada’s presentation is simple and a direct, addressed to the practitioners; While Shandilya’s work is in the nature of philosophical treatise and is addressed to the scholarly. It is in terse language, containing arguments and counter arguments. Shandilya’s approach is intellectual. Shandilya is more into philosophy and metaphysics of devotion. Narada’s approach is through the heart and humility of a devotee.

      Please see the other articles as also the the last two segments of this series on Indian Music . It talks about the Dhrupad.

      Please keep talking

      Warm Regards

    • sreenivasaraos

      December 27, 2016 at 6:10 am

      Dear Prachi,

      Wow.. you have chosen a tough one

      The tougher part of your subject is ‘the human consciousness’

      I think you need to narrow down the concept ; and make it more exact so that you may be able to address specific issues. related to tribal ethos , culture, emotions, aspirations, frustrations or their special concerns and values in life . You could also state the specific need , role of songs as a means of expression in the context of their environment and life in general.

      Consciousness is a subjective experience. It is elusive by its very nature. And, it is rather difficult to define consciousness,

      Kindly do not take this remark as ‘discouragement’. Certainly , not. Get your concept clear; define your areas of concern , and state your position/abstract within in a framework.


      Please read my article ‘Consciousness – a Buddhist view’ written some years back and published in many journals.–

      I would love to hear your thoughts aloud .

      Please do write back.

      Lets pave our way through, together.

      Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.


      • prachidublay

        December 27, 2016 at 6:36 am

        Dear Dr. Rao,
        As you right said, I am actually addressing specific issues related to tribal ethos , culture, emotions, aspirations, frustrations or their special concerns and values in life . I am also stating the specific need , role of songs as a means of expression in the context of their environment and life in general. That is the Main Focus of my project.. I needed to understand the place of Pentatonic in Human Life in a larger context and there has been some research going on in Biomusic and Psychoacoustics. I have gathered some material but I needed a Bang On Clue thus I am writing to many scholars and artist friends.. I am deeply grateful for your response.. I shall soon go through the article you have referred to me.
        Yes, I will keep writing..
        Warmly, Prachi


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